At first glance, it might seem like the Rockets and Texans are headed in exactly the same direction. After all, both teams have spent the better part of the last few seasons being stuck right in the middle of their respective leagues. Good enough to where a few tweaks would get them to the playoffs, but not quite good enough to contend for a championship with just small changes.
However, the perception in my mind is that the gulf is very large between the Rockets and the Texans. This is because I inherently trust the Rockets management, while the Texans management haven't given me any reason to give them the same respect. I wouldn't place any bets on the Rockets making the playoffs before the Texans, but I would place a bet on them being a championship contender before the Texans are. If you look beyond the records, the infrastructure in place is radically different.
The Texans have two bonafide stars: Andre Johnson and Mario Williams, that are arguably the top players at their positions in the NFL. Arian Foster hasn't had sustained success, but he's definitely in that conversation as well. Matt Schaub isn't Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, but at the very least, he's a pretty good quarterback who belongs in the Top 10 conversation. All four of those players played the majority of the last two seasons for the Texans, and it still wasn't enough to drag the rest of the team to the playoffs.
On the other hand, the Rockets have one superstar: Yao Ming. Instead of playing for the last two seasons, he's spent the majority of the time on the sideline, forcing the Rockets to knock everyone up the pecking order one spot. Kevin Martin has been forced to be the top option, Luis Scola the number two, and so forth. That's not even getting into the fact that without Yao, the Rockets interior defense is horrendous. Instead of blowing up and losing 60 games, the team rallied around it's good parts and has continued to hover around 40 wins a season. That's pretty solid, considering the obvious flaws the team has without Yao.
The Texans fix problems at a glacial pace, don't always hit the right solutions, and almost never anticipate them happening. This franchise has never had a safety or a nose tackle, and we're about to enter year 10 of its existence. I can't think of anything that signifies that more than the fact that as O.J. Atogwe was a free agent, the Texans ignored him and re-signed Shaun Cody (who has never played 3-4 nose tackle) and Owen Daniels (a good tight end, but the team is packed with good tight ends) for almost the exact same amount of total dollars. Last offseason, rather than trade for a cornerback like Josh Wilson to fill Dunta Robinson's shoes, they just drafted Kareem Jackson and were done with it. The fact that they seriously thought relying on a rookie cornerback was a smart plan says a lot about what's going on down on Kirby Street.
The Rockets can certainly be blamed for relying on Yao Ming's legs to hold up this season, because that seemed like an unlikely proposition from the start, but Daryl Morey certainly hedged his bets. Before the season, he signed Brad Miller to be able to have a capable backup, and once Miller's defense started offending everyone's eyes, he dealt for lottery ticket Hasheem Thabeet. No, the Rockets didn't land Deron Williams or Carmelo Anthony, but they were all over the trade talks for both of them. And yes, Thabeet hasn't proven anything other than that he can be very tall and deliver six fouls. When was the last time the Texans dealt for their version of Thabeet? Or anyone, for that matter, to fill the gaping voids on their team?
Management's public face
Both teams have pretty great public relations departments. They both have official team bloggers, and they both have drafted some pretty ambitious community projects. The Rockets are definitely more resourceful when it comes to ticket sales and advertising, but they also have to be; the Texans could add 10,000 seats and still announce sellouts.
If you look at the public face that their respective managements have out there though, it's a completely different story. Texans GM Rick Smith famously admitted in an interview that he had no experience drafting or rating 3-4 players, while Bob McNair has been giving fans the "on the right track" line since 2008 or so. Everything about the Texans screams patience and development despite the fact that they're headed to year six of the Gary Kubiak Era with a high of nine wins. At some point on the development path, I believe you're actually supposed to develop players.
Meanwhile, Daryl Morey is invited to head panels at basketball analytics conferences. Les Alexander is more than willing to pay the NBA's luxury tax if he has to. The Rockets have worked tirelessly to become a world class organization, and once they are able to get a new superstar, they'll be right back in the mix for best cities in the NBA to play in.
I don't expect great things from either of these teams soon, though I suspect one of them may sneak into the playoffs in the very near future. I'd probably bet on the Texans for that one, although history would tell me I'm throwing my money away. They've just got so much top-tier talent that it's inevitable they find their way there one of these years.
But I certainly have a lot more faith that because the Rockets organization has a better footing up top and a better feel for what they're doing, they are much more likely to have sustained success in the near future than the Texans. The Rockets are committed to excellence from the top down; I don't know if you can say the same about the Texans right now.